Her Voice Matters Too: Female Students Feel Silenced in College Classrooms

by The Cowl Editor on September 20, 2018


A classroom with students circled around a table.
Seminar-style classes aim to promote discussion amongst all students. Photo courtesy of Providence College News.

by Bridget Blain ’19

Opinion Staff

As the #MeToo movement continues to bring the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in professional and academic environments to light, women still often find themselves being discouraged from using their voice.

The most recent public example of this silencing occurred when Serena Williams was charged with the violation of “verbal abuse” during the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Championship last week when she defended herself against a charge of “coaching.”

This recent event involving Williams brings up the ongoing issue of women being silenced by men.

Silencing women does not just happen on the large scale, but in our very own daily lives, especially in the classroom and workplace.

Gender stereotypes affect women in academic settings from the time they are in elementary school until they graduate college.

Young girls, particularly those who have an interest in entering the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, face many biases from teachers and male students.

An article written by Soraya Chemaly published by Time Magazine in 2015 noted that in 2014 “rates of girls taking STEM-related advanced placement tests reached a record low,” and that, “In two states not a single girl (in some states there were also no boys of color) took the Computer Science AP.”

Despite the significant advancements women have made in terms of receiving equal education, women are still often boxed out of certain fields.

There is also a noticeable difference between male and female students when it comes to how students ask or answer questions in the classroom.

It is far too common to see female students in the classroom begin their answer to a question with “This may be wrong but..” or “I’m not sure if this is right but…”

Oftentimes female students find themselves starting emails with, “I’m sorry to bother you but…” But why should asking a professor for help be something to apologize for?

It is rarer for a male student to preface their answer with such doubt or with an apology. 

Unfortunately, as Williams’ recent controversy reminds us, the silencing of women continues into the workforce.

An article recently published by Bloomberg, written by Felice Maranz and Rebecca Greenfield, features research done by Prattle, an automated research company, requested by Bloomberg.

Prattle found that, “In a study of more than 155,000 company conference calls over the past 19 years, Prattle found that men spoke 92 percent of the time.”

One of the reasons for this is that women simply do not hold as many higher-up corporate positionas as men do. But this data also suggests that even if women are supposed to be involved in discussions, they are being interrupted by their male co-workers.                                        

Maranz and Greenfield also write that, “Studies have found that men talk more than women in all kinds of group settings, including school board meetings and the Supreme Court.”

These findings validate the experiences that women like Williams are publicly speaking out about.

Far too many women experience being silenced or being treated differently in their profession solely because of their gender.

Women everywhere should use Williams as an example  to show that they do not deserve to be treated any differently, nor do they need to speak any differently.

Williams is a role model for anyone who has felt silenced or disregarded because of their gender, race, or sexuality, and her now infamous quote, “You owe me an apology,” is the new rallying cry for all who feel silenced.

Because of women like Williams who dare to call out sexism and injustice when they see it, hopefully more women and minority groups will feel confident in demanding the apologies and respect  they deserve.